GPs fear drop in CervicalCheck testing take-up

Family doctors say they are “seriously concerned” that the undermining of the CervicalCheck screening programme will put off women from using it.

Chairman of the Irish Medical Organisation’s (IMO) GP committee, Dr Padraig McGarry, said the scandal could lead to a decrease in the number of women presenting for testing.

Dr McGarry said a full review of the screening programme is the right course of action and that other matters, such as outsourcing, testing criteria and frequency, and patient communication, should be included.

He also believes the tragedy for the women who have gone on to develop cervical cancer cannot be underestimated and they must be offered every support possible by the State: “We have a duty as medical professionals to encourage all women to continue to attend for both routine screening appointments and to consult with their GP on any concerns they may have about previous smear tests.”

The IMO has agreed to a programme with the Department of Health for concerned women to visit their GP and, if necessary, arrange a repeat smear test.

Dr McGarry said GPs are very busy reassuring women who have concerns about their smear tests and many are opting for repeat smears: “We have explained to them the nature of screening — that it is not diagnostic — but I think they feel that if they get a repeat smear now they will probably get the reassurance they need.

“If women have concerns they should not bottle them up, they should go to their GP and get advice as to what is the best appropriate action to take. Women should continue to have their smears because it does save lives and the new HPV test that is coming onstream soon will give them an added level of certainty.”

More than 15,000 calls have been made to the HSE’s helpline over the CervicalCheck controversy since April 28 and 5,471 calls have been returned.

CervicalCheck has said it is clear there was a “very serious” communications breakdown in notifying the 209 women where an audit showed their smear test could have provided a different result or recommended earlier follow up. Contact has been made with 203 of these 209 women.

The Irish Cancer Society said it is glad the Government has responded to its request to make a package of supports available to all of the 209 women and the families of those who have tragically passed away.

 The society’s chief executive, Averil Power, said: “Nothing can undo the hurt and pain that has been caused to them but hopefully these supports will help them in some way.”

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